Of course, frozen food has always existed in climates that were
cold enough for the food to freeze. Many people developed innovative
food-freezing techniques, including Enoch Piper, William Davis,
and Daniel E. Somes. However, Clarence Birdseye is credited with
inventing in 1924 the quick freezing method, which produces the
type of frozen foods that we know today.
While working as a fur trader in Labrador, NF, Canada, Birdseye
discovered that the fish that he and the local Inuit caught froze
almost immediately after being pulled from the water. He was delighted
to discover that the fish was just as delicious when thawed out
months later. From this experience, he theorized that food must
be frozen very quickly in order for it to retain its taste and
Birdseye was right. Before quick-freezing came along, foods were
frozen at a fairly slow rate. This caused large ice crystals to
form, which ruptured the cell membranes of the food. When the food
was defrosted, the ice crystals melted and water would leak out,
taking with it the food’s flavor and texture.
Birdseye developed two methods for quick freezing foods, both
of which employed the innovation of packaging the food beforehand. In
the first technique, the package was held between two metal belts
that were chilled to -40°F to -45°F using a calcium chloride
In the second and more popular technique, the packaged food was
held under pressure between two hollow metal plates that were chilled
to -25°F by the evaporation of ammonia. Using this method, a two-inch-thick
package of meat could be frozen to 0°F in about 90 minutes, while
fruits and vegetables took about 30 minutes.
Birdseye’s quick-freezing process actually ended up creating
168 patents! These covered not only the freezing technique but
also the packaging, type of paper used, and related innovations.
Fun Fact: March is National Frozen Food Month!
- Brrrr - The Secret History of Frozen Food, by Michael Ruhlman, Wired, May 19, 2017.
- Clarence Birdseye - This site maintained by the Lemmelson-MIT program gives a profile of Clarence Birdseye and includes some basic information about his development of frozen foods. You can find the patent number for one of his innovations here!
- Clarence Birdseye and His Fantastic Frozen Food Machine - The Salt, National Public Radio, May 19, 2017.
- Clarence Birdseye, the Man Behind Modern Frozen Food - Jesse Rhodes interviews author Mark Kurlansky about Clarence Birdseye and frozen food in the Smithsonian Magazine blog, May 16, 2012.
- Freezing and Food Safety -
Fact Sheets from the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service.
Food That’s Freezer Friendly -
This is a brief article about the history of research of frozen foods by the
United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. Includes
the nine principles of freezing vegetables.
of Frozen Food is Long and Varied -
The National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Association (NFRA) maintains this
site, which includes a basic history of the development of frozen foods over
Gordon. Frozen foods: the formative years. 100 years
of refrigeration: a supplement to ASHRAE journal. ASHRAE
journal, v. 46, Nov. 2004: S35-39.
vegetables. In How products are made: an illustrated
guide to product manufacturing. Edited by Jacqueline L. Longe.
v.5. Detroit, Gale Research, c2000.
Also available online at http://www.madehow.com/Volume-5/Frozen-Vegetable.html
the beginning. Frozen food age, v. 51, Dec. 2002: 26-38.
- Kurlansky, Mark. Frozen in time: Clarence Birdseye's outrageous idea about frozen food. New York, Delacorte Press, . 165 p.
Tiffany. Clarence Birdseye. Chicago, Heinemann Library,
c2003. 32 p. (Juvenile).
Rudi. The development of frozen foods. ASHRAE journal,
v. 37, Jun 1995: 69-71.
Rudi. How we got frozen food. American heritage of
invention and technology, v. 9, Spring 1994: 46-56.
War years – and boom: 1941-1945. Frozen food
v. 46, Aug. 1997: 46-47.
more print resources...
Search on "cold
storage," "cookery frozen
foods," "frozen foods," or "home freezers"
in the Library of Congress Online
for point rationing. While mother keeps handy her war ration
book two, daughter examines the frozen foods which require removal
of point stamps. Prints &
Photographs Division, Library of Congress.
New Jersey. Seabrook Farm. Packing Birds Eye frozen foods. Prints &
Photographs Division, Library of Congress.
Examples of frozen foods. Image Number K7225-2. Photo from the USDA Agricultural Research Service.
Man looking in grocery store freezer.
Photo from Energy Star website.
Bridgeton, New Jersey. Seabrook Farm. Frozen food coming out of the quick freezer. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress.